Back when I owned a bakery-restaurant, one of our most popular salads was a classic Caesar. You know, that heavenly dressing that was the only way you’d eat anchovies. Crisp, cool romaine lettuce. Parmesan cheese. And our dramatic croutons.
The only bother about it was that I had to be the one to make it. Mastering the emulsion of eggs (I used pasteurized yolks) and oil was beyond the patience level of most of the kitchen staff, including the son and the daughter who both mastered an invaluable array of skills, just not that one. After a couple of years, I had an epiphany. Egg yolks + oil + some seasoning = mayonnaise. Hmmmmmm. For a fraction of a second I wondered if the Caesar police might burst in the back door, then just as quickly decided I didn’t care. Starting with mayonnaise would let me delegate making of the dressing to the daughter, and I could stay on my own side of the kitchen. I’ve been teaching it that way ever since.
I’d like to say a few words about anchovies. Whenever I teach this dressing, I ask for a show of hands from those who are terrified of them. So first we prepare the dressing without them, and taste it. Then we add the anchovies, purée them in, and taste it again. To a one, the naysayers are amazed that the dressing couldn’t do without them.
Last weekend I catered meals at a gorgeous lodge out east of the foothills rolling up to the Beartooth Mountains. The owner had donated the weekend stay for 2 couples as an auction item for one of my favorite charities, and I donated chef services as part of the package. My sweet friend, who is actually the state director of the charity in question, went along as my most able sous-chef. Out of all the meals we prepared, Saturday evening’s Caesar salad was still being talked about on Sunday.
Makes enough dressing for 4 salads
8 ounces good mayonnaise
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 anchovy fillets
2 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons Worstershire Sauce
1 teaspoon prepared horseradish
6 drops Tabasco sauce
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Sea or kosher salt and grinds of pepper to taste
- Measure all ingredients except salt and pepper into the bowl of a food processor. Measure each ingredient precisely if you must, or feel free to just eyeball them. Make it enough times, and you’ll easily get to that point. Purée until completely blended. Stop motor and scrape down sides of bowl, then purée once more.
- Taste the dressing before seasoning with salt and pepper. Remember those anchovies! Blend once more after seasoning.
- If you don’t plan to use all the dressing at once, it will hold in the refrigerator for about a week.
I described them as dramatic, and compared to the perfectly cut squares you may be used to, they are. We used our focaccia to make them. We’d cut slices 1/4″ thick (yes, precisely 1/4″), and 3 1/2 inches long. It was already so loaded with olive oil that no additional was required. We’d lay them out on sheet pans lined with parchment, toast them on both sides in the oven, then store them in airtight containers. The son, the daughter, and the rest of the staff snacked on them like potato chips. So did I. If you don’t have a good focaccia, use some Italian bread. Slice it into 1/4″ thin rounds, then slice the rounds in half. Brush each side with some olive oil, and toast under the broiler. To make them REALLY good, rub each side with some cut garlic right after they come out of the oven.
One head of romaine will make enough salad for 2 to 4 people, depending upon how large the salads are. This is one of my favorite warm summer evening dinners – just a great big plate of it in all its own glory, or perhaps with some crumbles of bacon or matchsticks of good salami or sopressata.
- Leave the entire head of romaine intact. To wash it, hold it vertically under cold running water. Turn it upside down and shake the water out of it. Set it in a dish drainer or colander upside down to drain while you prepare the croutons.
- With the head still intact, move to a cutting board. Trim off the rounded ends of the lettuce so that the top of the head is squared off. Keep the ends for another salad, or feed them to bunnies or chickens or ducks.
- Beginning at the stem end, make 3 vertical cuts through all leaves of the lettuce, dividing it into approximately equal thirds. Then cut the lettuce into 1″ wide ribbons. Stop when you get near the core.
- Transfer the lettuce to a large salad bowl. Pour the dressing over, then toss to distribute well. I use about three tablespoons per salad.
- Arrange salad on plates. I like to use a peeler to shave a few large curls of Parmesan over the salad, but use a grater if you prefer. Feel free to add a few whole anchovies to the salads. Place 2 big, beautiful croutons on the side of each plate. Serve immediately.
- If you’re not going to use the entire head of romaine for the number of salads you need, go ahead and cut it all into ribbons and hold in the refrigerator in a plastic bag. That way, you can have a Caesar salad whenever your heart so desires.